Reddit bills itself as the front page of the internet – an allusion to the news and content aggregator’s aspirations to be the default location for any time you spend on the web. With that kind of audacious goal, you would think that Reddit would have fierce and effective methods to prevent anyone from gaming the central mechanics of how Reddit works – their system of up and down voting their content. Not so says New York University’s Sinan Aral, a researcher who has recently studied just how the voting system works in Reddit.
Aral’s team rigged up several stories with several initial up or down votes, as a way to get the internet herd rolling and see how popular the articles ended up. His findings are simultaneously surprising and obvious:
Positive and negative social influence created asymmetric herding effects. The positive manipulation created a positive social influence bias that persisted over our five-month observation window.
In other words, despite having initial negative votes, most pieces ended up with overall positive trends. For once the internet is a positive place. What seems to matter is not whether the opinion ball is rolling toward the negative or positive, but that it is rolling at all. People tend to flock to stories that already have momentum, but then their positive bias to share “good” stories results in more up votes than down.
What this all points to is the importance of an initial “kick” of votes on a piece or story. If you business lives or dies on Reddit traffic, being able to summon upvotes, or any votes for that matter, initially could prove to be the difference between failure and success.
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